Investigators: Balloon boy parents acted alone; parents may have to pay $43,000 in costs
Associated Press Writer
FORT COLLINS, Colo. (AP) – Colorado couple Richard and Mayumi Heene acted alone when they fabricated a story about their son floating off in a runaway balloon to gain publicity, sheriff’s officials said Monday.
Days after a 50-mile balloon chase captivated a global audience in October, Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden said investigators were examining the possibility of conspirators, which he said may have included media outlets.
On Monday, two days before the two aspiring reality TV stars were to be sentenced on charges stemming from the stunt, sheriff’s spokeswoman Eloise Campanella said the possibility of coconspirators was not substantiated.
Police examined three computer laptops, several hard drives, video cameras and tapes seized from the Heene home in Fort Collins in their investigation.
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Richard and Mayumi Heene both face the possibility of jail time when they appear in court Wednesday for sentencing. A judge also will determine if the two owe restitution, and if so, how much. Campanella says sheriff’s officials are tabulating the costs, and so far the total is about $43,000.
“I’m going to demand to see the receipts that they claim are owed and let’s see what they can prove,” Richard Heene attorney David Lane said Monday.
In a letter sent to Lane by the Larimer County district attorney’s office, sheriff’s officials estimate their department spent about $8,000 in overtime. Another $13,500 was spent by law enforcement agencies from the nearby communities of Greeley and Weld County, along with Colorado State University and the U.S. Forest Service, the letter said.
Two National Guard helicopters launched to track the Jiffy Pop-shaped craft and possibly attempt to rescue the couple’s 6-year-old son, reportedly inside the balloon, cost about $16,000.
Also included in the estimate are $8,500 in damages to the field where the craft landed. Emergency vehicles rushed onto the field, and a police officer sprinted through it trying to catch up with the balloon.
In another letter sent to Lane, the FAA said it conducted its own civil investigation and determined the Heenes launched an unauthorized aircraft and are subject to an $11,000 fine. Lane said that’s a separate matter that he is studying.
Officials rerouted planes around the balloon’s flight path and briefly forced some planes to switch to a different runway for takeoff from Denver International Airport.
Messages left Monday for the FAA and district attorney’s office were not immediately returned.
Richard Heene pleaded guilty last month to a felony count of falsely influencing the sheriff, while Mayumi Heene pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of knowingly filing a false report with emergency services.
Under terms of the plea agreements, Richard Heene faces up to 90 days in jail, probation and a fine. Mayumi Heene could get 60 days, likely to be served in a work-release program, and probation.
At Wednesday’s sentencing, Richard Heene is “going to beg that the judge not send his wife to jail,” Lane said.
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